You might be wondering about the pressing question on many people’s minds as to how in the world did East African girls, particularly Somali gyldem, suddenly gain such an attraction to East Asian languages and culture. Although it may seem a mad stretch as Somali Unicorn, Beast from the East, I feel that I have some answers to this mind boggling mystery. I was swept along in this foreign phenomenon once too. Annyeong chingus!
Let me tell you a little about myself: I went to a school with very few ethnic minority kids. I felt that I had uninterrupted freedom to follow whatever wild trend that tickled my interests without the judging eyes of fellow Somali kids my age. Whilst my Mali peers were chanting along to the likes of Riri, Drake and Minaj, I was colour coordinating my eyebrows to my hijab; you could say I didn’t have a regular teenage experience compared to most Somali girls. The only times I saw the cool leather clad Somali girls crew was at dugsi during the weekends. And in all honestly, I didn’t have the opportunity to fully integrate with them there either because I was the macaliin’s daughter (another story for another day!). You could say I embarked on anything and everything making stuff up as I went along. I didn’t have a normal medium to compare myself to. As a Camden girl, the hipster culture was an almost inbred default setting; we were programmed to try our hardest to not be mainstream like the common peasants trapped in the matrix that is mind control through the media.
A random lunchtime in year 9, my Vietnamese friend showed me a music video that all the other Asian girls were losing their minds over. The boy group were called SHINee. From the name alone my thermometer for attention was getting warmer; they mixed upper case and lower case letters – how rad! And the unconventional and incorrect spelling, tell me more. The 5 boys looked borderline androgynous sporting makeup and muscles. It was a madting. In their Korean parseltongue they sang beautifully, rapped ferociously and danced in such HD sync you’d think they were computer generated animations. They were perfect.
In the next few years that came, I was swept up in a violent but welcomed tornado of fandoms and fan-wars. My kpop playlist of was long and my bias list was even longer. I become familiar with Super Junior, Girls Generation and DBSK. I fell in love with Big Bang and saw the birth of 2NE1. I jumped from SMTown to JYP to YG Entertainment. I started watching all the subtitles interviews and reality TV shows to the point when I didn’t need subtitles. I not only picked up a love for the bubblegum pop world of factory produced artists, I gained a deeper richer insight into Korean culture and history. I picked up the language quite quickly and still to this day I can have an almost fluent conversation with Koreans and I have been praised often for my perfect pronunciation.
I made a million and one friends through this new found community. Most of them where Asian but surprisingly I would bump into more and more Somali girls who were blinded by this fast sweeping epidemic of annyeonghaseyo and unnie/oppa culture. I though that it was the best thing ever, my kpop days were honestly some of the fun filled days of my life. But as most phases go, I outgrew it. I started noticing that as the system was churning out new and younger bands, I was soon heading to become a noona fan and felt repulsed; God forbid I ever become a noona fan! I stopped watching the reality TV shows, waiting for new album comebacks, keeping up to date with allkpop news reports and naturally I completely stopped listening to kpop. Don’t get me wrong, I still tune in now and again just to see how my idols are living life, how their post teen kpop careers are going, who has been released from the army and who is due to get married. It gives me joy to see the younger kpop generation fangirling over new groups and coming up with fanchants that they believe are original but we all know that it’s from the old school kpop era. It’s also interesting to notice new genres of kpop that are becoming more mainstream such as rap, reggae, EDM amongst others as globalisation contours to penetrate the Korean music industry.
As I gaze through my nostalgic rosy coloured lenses at that massive chunk of my life, I really wonder do why kpop was such a hit with the Somali diaspora. It’s such a bizarre pairing that you couldn’t have made it up. I spent hours pondering over all the possible theories and I have compiled a top 10 reasons why I believe Somali girls have fallen in love with kpop:
- Korean beauty standards and ullzang culture has a heavy weighting for appreciating androgynous features. There is a high proportion of feminine looking men in kpop and that may appeal to Somali girls as most Somali guys look quite feminine with their slim figures and lack of facial hair.
- The Korean language sounds very strange albeit the tone of conversation is quite familiar. There is a very whiny tone to how Koreans speak but with a slight undertone of cuteness. Most Somali girls speak like this with the common attitude of “I cannot deal with life right now” with a strong flavour of “I’m joking”.
- Somali girls are incredibly fashionable despite unanimously conforming to black dresses and skirts. Kpop let’s them live vicariously through their biases; when we see them dressed in red, purple, baby blue and maroon all at the same time, our inner fashionistas yell YAAS.
- The slapstick element to Korean comedy is very similar to Somali banter. Koreans are also well versed in sarcasm and fast witty responses that is better than the British humour we are all accustomed to. Overall, Somali people are naturally funny people who can easily recognise funny and welcome it when they see it.
- Most kpop idols crossed into the acting world. Notoriously Korean dramas have the most intense storylines and are so addictive once you get into them. Furthermore, Koreans are very PG when it comes to scenes of a romantic or intimate nature. Somali girls are a sucker for a good love story that is still quite halal.
- The synchronisation that kpop groups have when performing complex choreography is mesmerising to watch. Somali diaspora kids are probably thinking why the Somali government aren’t as united when running the country.
- The culture of respect for your elders is mirrored equally in Somali and Korean cultures. Somali girls are filial daughters and seeing their biases express parental love encourages them become more devoted daughters.
- Seeing how Korea has become such a thriving economy in the short span of half a century is very motivating to Somali girls across all diaspora communities. We plan to rebuild their home country and seek inspiration from excellence.
- Korean people are super friendly when you speak to them. They’re a homogenous nation of super patriotic people but they’re pleasantly surprised when they see a black hijabi fluentlyordering bibimbap with a side of kimchi, no soju. Korean food is really good and their snacks are even better.
- And of course, Somali girls have excellent taste in everything. Kpop would not have thrived if the actual music was trash. Most people who don’t understand the hype haven’t given kpop a chance because most times when they do, they end up converted into a kpop stan.
The aforementioned points seem to play elements in the reasons projected from every single kpop stan somali girl I have met over the last decade and it can be seen reflected in the eyes of the new kpop generation. I don’t think people who don’t understand kpop should fear it but rather they should give it an opportunity to possibly fall in love with a whole new world. I also believe that the kpop-Somali girl relationship is a long lasting one that will transcend over generations to come. Kpop was a teenage phase for me that left permanent and positive changes in my character that I have carried onto my adulthood. I am proud to call myself an ex-kpop stan.